Tallahassee Deputy City Manager: Amid backlash, new TPD policy not 'written in stone' – Tallahassee Democrat

New Tallahassee Police Department guidelines that govern the release of crime information are drawing criticism. But while TPD officials declared the policy as “effective immediately,” city officials say the change is not entirely set in stone.
Announced this week in an email, the changes to TPD’s public incident alert procedure restrict the release of information on crimes other than those that lead to deaths, life-threatening or multiple injuries – effectively reducing the number of times TPD will immediately notify the public. 
The department already maintains a tight leash on infromation, citing the victims’ rights amendment, Marsy’s Law, and that details can’t be released about cases that are “open and active” investigations. 
Tallahassee PD’s new policy:Tallahassee police to release less information, fewer alerts about crime to public
The new policy discourages reporters from following up on social media posts, where alerts and any updates will be posted, or online statistics that show active calls for service. It also discourages reporters from seeking information over the weekend or holidays.
TPD officials said among the ideas behind the guidelines was to streamline information and to avoid “inundating our followers with stuff that is not an immediate threat to public safety.”
“We understand the need to stay abreast of what is happening,” the policy from the department’s public information office states. “However, we are being inundated with calls that significantly impact our productivity.” 
Deputy City Manager Cynthia Barber, who oversees TPD, said since it was announced, the policy has garnered critcial reaction from local media about its impact to the community’s right to know public safety information. Media members, including the Tallahassee Democrat, WCTV and WTXL, are meeting with TPD officials about the policy on Thursday.
Barber said she would have liked the policy to have been workshopped before the guidelines were issued in an email to local media.
She called the document “fluid” and said there are likely changes to come. She denied the policy was an effort at limiting the amount of information about incidents that is released to the public.
“There’s nothing written in stone. Our goal is to be as transparent and open as possible,” Barber said in an interview. “In no way is there any effort to limit or reduce information, even if that is an unintended consequence. It will be addressed because that’s not our intent.”
The policy also drew criticism from the First Amendment Foundation’s Executive Director Pamela Marsh, who along with the advocacy group’s attorney, Virginia Hamrick, penned a column admonishing the release of less information to the public at a time when shootings have become a top issue in the city.
Opinion:New TPD policy ill-conceived: ‘We never solve an issue by shedding less light on it’
‘Social first’ strategy:Tallahassee police to release less information, fewer alerts about crime to public
Their take was that the policy “limits public access to accurate information on crime and local journalism’s ability to freely report on crime.”
“By hiding the city’s crime data, the Tallahassee Police Department is behaving as if it believes a rising crime rate is its fault,” they wrote. “Even if that were true – and it is almost certainly false – we never solve an issue by shedding less light on it. To the contrary, problems can only be fixed with more information, more input from well-meaning citizens, more discussion, more collaborative thinking.”
Contact Karl Etters at ketters@tallahassee.com or @KarlEtters on Twitter.
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